Thursday, October 12, 2006

Du Juan: Chinese Supermodel

Shanghai surprise: Face of the new China
Sitting in the lobby of Beijing's Grand Hyatt hotel, Du Juan is every centimetre a supermodel, but she is most definitely a supermodel from Shanghai. She is extremely polite in the traditional Chinese style with a playful sense of humour and a great line in casual understatement.

I don’t normally pay much interest to the modeling industry; this article caught my attention because Du Juan is apparently the first Chinese woman to grace the cover of Vogue. Then I noticed her name: “Juan” is part of Ally’s middle name, but I wondered if Ally’s “Juan” and Du Juan’s name were in fact the same in Chinese.

Some background first: When we got our referral, my wife called me at work with the news and passed on all the information she had at the time, which wasn’t much. Here’s what I wrote down:

Province: Jiangxi
Birthdate: March 9, 2003
Name: Shang Juan Shi
Orphanage: Shanggao Social Welfare Institute

I knew that children in a particular orphanage are given the same surname, so I assumed that was the “Shang” part and that the “Juan Shi” part was the name given to her by the staff.

It turns out we got the name wrong and that she was actually called Shang Guan Shi. The “Shang Guan” part was the surname and the “Shi” part was her given name, which, as it turned out, was the name of the man who found her. The character for “shi” (tone 4) is 世 and it means “world”.

Trouble is, I had already done a dangerous thing and looked up what “juan” meant in Chinese, without regard for tones or what the Chinese characters were. It turns out that one of the translations for “juan” (tone 1, pronounced joo-wan) was “beautiful, graceful” and the Chinese character is 娟.

We rather liked that and decided to keep it. Then, when we learned she was found by a man named “Shi”, we wanted to use that, too. But we didn’t want her to have two middle names, so we combined them into JuanShi (娟世). When you plug those characters into Babelfish, it translates into “winsome world”, which is close enough to “beautiful world”, I guess.

Taking such liberties is probably linguistically risky and might not make any sense to a Chinese speaker, but it’s the best two Americans with internet access can do.

So what about Du Juan, the supermodel? Turns out her name in Chinese is 杜鵑. The “juan” part, also tone 1, is translated as “cuckoo”. So there you go. Class dismissed.

Oh, and if any native Mandarin speaker is reading this, please don’t write and tell me I named my daughter a velvety bag of walnuts, or something. I’d rather not know.


Post a Comment

<< Home